Bipolar Disorder Research

Bipolar disorder (BD) is a medical condition in which people experience two different types of abnormal mood states: 1) clinical depression and 2) periods of unusually elevated mood and energy, referred to as mania (when severe) or hypomania (when less severe). The number and type of mood episodes vary between individuals, but for most people depressions outnumber manias/hypomanias.

BD affects 60 million people worldwide, including 6.5 million Americans and 115,000 Minnesotans. It is a complex illness with multiple causes, including changes in brain structure, brain function, and brain chemistry. Genetic factors are also important, and BD often (but not always) runs in families. Life stresses, sleep deprivation, poor health, and substance use can trigger depressive and manic/hypomanic episodes in people with BD.

There are many effective medications to treat and prevent depression and mania/hypomania. Choosing the right medication or combination of medications depends on numerous factors, including the type of mood episode being treated, a person's illness history, and their response to previous medication trials. Research studies are currently underway to develop additional treatments, to better understand the genetics of BD, and to develop diagnostic tests for BD (eg. brain scans, blood tests).


Research Focus

Current research projects include:
  • using computational causal modeling (a combination of causal modeling theory, graph theory, and machine learning) to identify causal relationships among manic symptoms in the mania symptom network in people with bipolar disorder. This could help to identify the most important symptoms to target to treat mania, and generate hypotheses about how different brain regions interact to generate mania
  • investigating whether environmental exposures like cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol use, and medical conditions like obesity, contribute to more frequent and/or severe manic and depressive symptoms in people with bipolar disorder.